Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Grave of Olive Dot Robinson, Wife of Chung Ling Soo

Dot Robinson being floated by Harry Kellar
When it comes to one of the greatest magician's assistants in history, surely one of the early ones was also one of the best. Olive Robinson was the wife of William E. Robinson. She was born Olive Path and had been with William Robinson since the very beginning of his career. For a time she worked as Harry Kellar's chief assistant in his show. Her husband was stage manager, illusion designer, and even performed his Black Art Act in the show. Olive, or Dot as she was known because of her small size, presented The Cocoon Illusion in Harry Kellar's show. She also was featured in an amazing levitation that was co-created by her husband and several other magicians, the effect was known as Astarte.

Later, when the Robinson's were wooed away by Alexander Herrmann, she became an assistant in his show. Astarte was performed in Herrmann's show also, but it was retitled The Maid of the Moon, and again featured Dot Robinson.

Finally, when William Robinson decided to go out on his own, he presented a show as an Asian character named Chung Ling Soo. His wife Dot was renamed, Suee Seen, and became the chief assistant in her husband's show. So Dot Robinson got to perform with three of the most iconic magicians of their era.

After the tragic death of her husband, who was shot on stage at the Wood Green Empire Theatre in 1918, Dot Robinson quietly fades into the background. The book The Glorious Deception by Jim Steinmeyer, suggests that Dot had become embarrassed by the scandal and controversy involving her husbands death. In 1921, she leaves London without informing her friends there and relocates to New York. She moves not far from many well known magicians, including Houdini. But she never let anyone in America know of her move either. She remained in seclusion throughout the rest of her life. In 1933, Dot Robinson was diagnosed with cancer. She died the following year at the age of 71. Olive 'Dot' Robinson was buried in the Bronx in Woodlawn Cemetery in an unmarked grave. But that's not the end of the story.

In 2016, magic historian, Diego Domingo, started raising money to put a stone marketer on her grave. The dedication for the stone marker was Oct 24th, 2017. Olive Robinson is buried in the Robinson Family plot not far from Williams' brother, and apparently just down the path from one of her former employers Alexander Herrmann. And today she has a proper gravestone.
Photo courtesy Diego Domingo

Monday, January 7, 2019

Minerva Queen of Handcuffs - Guest Post

I first heard of this project from my friend Ron Pearson at a marketing conference we both attended in the fall of 2017. It sounded like a great idea, a play about Minerva, and I think it is! Rather than me talk about it, I'll let Ron tell you about it!

Minerva-Queen of the Handcuffs

The inspiration for the play came from Jim Steinmeyer's book on Jarrett. Jarrett was married to Minerva and tells a harrowing story about her and Houdini. I don't want to give it away here as it is very important to the plot of the play, but if you have the book it's worth taking a look. 

I very much liked the idea of portraying Houdini as the bad guy, as he is traditionally seen as the archetypal hero. It gave me the opportunity to cast him as the symbol for all of the barriers and inequality that women had to endure at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly female performers. 

The play follows Minerva from the beginning of her career, learning the act from her first husband William Vano. I then touch upon certain real life career points, such as the development of her Water Barrel escape, her suing Merryland Amusement Park in Maryland for breech of contract and her European tour.

Being that there is limited information about Minerva's history, I have had to take some liberties here and there. For example, there were three events in her life that I have connected for the narrative of the play. One was her sudden and unexplained cancellation of two weeks of performances. Another was her visitations from a Hypnotist (who later became her second husband and manager). The third was her promotion of an anti-anxiety pill in a newspaper advertisement. 

So, in the play Minerva has consulted a Hypnotist to help her overcome anxiety attacks that have made her cancel her performances. The play is then told through flashbacks that come out of her hypnotic trances.

I am very fortunate that the lead actress in the play, Miranda Allen (yes, while I was writing the names Miranda and Minerva were continuously mixed up!). Miranda is a real life escape artist and street performer, as well as a trained actress. We had performed together at a number of Canadian festivals and she became the.catalyst for me to finally write this play that had been rattling around in my brain for many years. Her partner, Richard Lee Hsi, is also a trained actor and dancer and plays all of the male characters in the show, including Houdini. 

I want to take this opportunity to thank Dean Carnegie and Gary Hunt, who were so kind and giving with their information on Minerva. I absolutely could not have written the play without their help. Thank you gentlemen! 

I hope you will be able to see our show one day. My intention is to tour it, and I will certainly keep Dean in the loop as to where we will be performing. If you are in the Edmonton, Canada area January 15 to 27, please come see us! And please follow Minerva's future exploits on her facebook page at

And if you're interested you can check out my previous article on Minerva called The American Queen of Mystery

Playwright Ron Pearson

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Coming Later This Week, A Very Special Guest Post

Later this week, I'll have my first guest post of the year. I can't tell you how thrilled I am about this. It's by a friend of mine who has written a play about MINERVA The Queen of Handcuffs. Keep watching, as it should be up in a few days!